By Michael J. Koberlein
Are they cute? Are they fluffy? Do they always howl?
Every year, thousands of people from all over the world travel to West Yellowstone to see and learn about wolves, and they come away with an education and even some wolf souvenirs.
Janet Ostler, partial owner of the Historic Madison Hotel in West Yellowstone, said tourists are always excited when they see the wolves, but some are not used to the wolves? wild nature.
One time a group of tourists were riding along together on a nature watch near a stream, and they saw a wolf trotting along on the opposite side, she said.
Excitedly, they pointed at the wolf and watched it curiously to see what it was doing, she said.
?A lot of people are excited when they see them and [when] they watch them feeding,? she said.
However, not on this particular occasion, Ostler said.
The women in the company noticed a white swan floating on a break-off of snow in the stream between them and the wolf, she said.
The wolf watched the swan as it ran alongside the stream and the ladies shrieked when they saw that the stream began to narrow up ahead, Ostler said.
?That wolf jumped and got that swan,? she said.
Ostler said the women were uneasy after it happened, but that is part of nature.
The tourists have a good time buying different items decorated with wolves, she said.
?A lot of them like wolf pictures,? Ostler said. ?Mandela-type things that are colored and beautiful. A lot of people want a medallion with a wolf on it.?
She also said a lot of people visit West Yellowstone because of the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
Libby Scott, an animal curator in the Center, said they have over 100,000 visitors each year, seeking to be educated about wolves.
?We do a lot of school tours,? she said, adding they?ve had tours with students from kindergarten to college.
A naturalist is available for the tourists if they have any questions about the wolves or the grizzlies, she said.
Scott, who oversees the Animal Services Department, said some people visit the Center because it?s a guaranteed sighting of a grizzly bear or Gray Wolf.
?We have two habitats,? she said. ?One houses the wolves, and in one we rotate eight different bears.?
When they rotate the bears, they have a control mechanism that allows for bears to go into the habitat in the center, and to go out in a controlled habitat outside.
Colleen Walker, an employee in the Center?s gift shop, said she thinks most of the people who visit West Yellowstone are curious to learn about the wolf, the order of the pack, and the society of wolves.
A lot of places don?t have them, she said. They get many people that come from cities where they will never get the opportunity to see a wolf.
?[People come] from places all over the world from Britain, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.?
Walker said wolf paraphernalia is one of the most popular items in the gift shop.
?That?s probably one of the items that we run out of the most,? she said.
Anything from coffee cups, to T shirts, to pillows?It?s at least every other person that comes in with either a wolf post card, a wolf statue, or wolf coasters, she said.
?They [the wolves] are the most popular, least seen.?